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OPINION: Why social entrepreneurs are vital to the COVID-19 crisis

Wednesday, 16 September 2020 15:05 GMT

AMYAA workers provide medical assistance to a boy who suffered severe skin disease during lockdown on May 21, 2020 in India. Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum.

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We call on all actors to stand by social entrepreneurs as first responders to the COVID-19 crisis and as pioneers of a green, inclusive society and economic system

By Members of the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship

For decades, social entrepreneurs have worked to solve market failures and build more sustainable models to create more inclusive economies. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that the world’s systems are fragile. Beyond the health and human tragedy of the virus, the pandemic has triggered the most severe economic crisis in a century with its impacts unevenly felt across nations, communities and economies.

As countries have gone into lockdown, businesses have closed, and those who are able to do so have withdrawn into the safety of their homes, it has become clear that the most vulnerable members of our society are being hit the hardest.

The World Bank estimates that over 100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty due to COVID-19, writing off all gains made to alleviate poverty since 2017. And the ILO estimates that, as a result of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers – the most vulnerable in the labour market – have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living.

These very people and communities need us – now. As UN Secretary General António Guterres has remarked, “Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.”

We call on all actors to stand by social entrepreneurs as first responders to the COVID-19 crisis and as pioneers of a green, inclusive society and economic system.

In this crisis, social innovators and entrepreneurs have once again shown their capacity to act as first responders, bringing affordable healthcare to those in need, protecting jobs and providing emergency relief swiftly. Some examples include:

  • Jan Sahas in India, a 20-year old community organization that has responded to the crisis by providing food to over 420,000 migrants, as well as 11,000 PPE kits and emergency transportation to 17,000 migrants and their families.
  • The Instituto Muda in Brazil that stepped in to provide recycling cooperatives that employ people living below the poverty line with financial help to pay their workers to support their families. They also ensured that these workers were supplied with masks, equipment and disinfectant gel.
  • Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, which pivoted its call centres to scale up the capacity of South Africa's Unemployment Insurance Fund to handle over 1.2 million calls within a span of two months in the wake of economic shutdowns.

Social entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to represent a new standard for today’s change leaders. Governments are looking to partner with them and find mutually advantageous solutions now more than ever.

To continue to play their part, social entrepreneurs need swift access to capital and support, and they need a seat at the decision-making table.

Despite the trillions of dollars being deployed in emergency responses to the pandemic, only a small share is reaching social entrepreneurs and the communities they serve in the informal economy.

Rural areas and community women’s groups, particularly those in emerging markets, are the most likely to be excluded.

This is why in May of this year, the World Economic Forum initiated the development of the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, bringing together 60 leading organizations that collectively support over 50,000 entrepreneurs reaching over 1 billion people, to raise awareness of the vital role these front-line entrepreneurs play and to mobilize greater support for them.

Today, the Alliance is releasing its COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda that builds on the actions its members have taken already and seeks to inspire new commitments.

Alongside our fellow Alliance members, we are ready to double down on our support for social entrepreneurs working on the frontlines of the COVID crisis and are inviting our peers and colleagues who share our impatience with the pace of change to walk the talk of social change with us to step up to support social entrepreneurs.

For social entrepreneurs to lead and drive impact and change they need each of us – funders, investors, corporations, supporting intermediaries, and government institutions – to get behind them.

This blog was submitted by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs. Its contents are based on an original blog by the Schwab Foundation, Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, and Catalyst 2030 - All COVID Alliance members

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